Local physician celebrates 33 years with nurse who saved his lif - KULR8.com | Montana's News Leader | Billings, MT

Local physician celebrates 33 years with nurse who saved his life after heart attack, shares heart health advice

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Gary Ostahowski credits his wife of 33 years and fellow physician, Vera, for saving his life when he went into cardiac arrest last April Gary Ostahowski credits his wife of 33 years and fellow physician, Vera, for saving his life when he went into cardiac arrest last April
Dr. Gary Ostahowski, his wife Vera, and three daughters taking part in the Heart and Sole Run in Billings Dr. Gary Ostahowski, his wife Vera, and three daughters taking part in the Heart and Sole Run in Billings
BILLINGS, Mont. -

Dr. Gary Ostahowski and his wife, Vera, are about to celebrate their 33rd anniversary this weekend, and it's a milestone the couple almost didn't reach when he went into cardiac arrest last year.

Today, the longtime St. Vincent Healthcare physician shares his personal medical emergency that left him clinically dead, and important heart health information to help others.

Even after 38 years in family medicine, Ostahowski said he wasn't prepared for the symptoms he began experiencing on April 26, 2016.

"I was downstairs starting a fire in the wood stove when I started having a weird feeling in my chest," Ostahowski said. "As I brought wood in, I kind of stumbled and twisted and thought, 'I must have done something to my chest.'"

Ostahowski said sensations in his chest initially came and went, so he took three Aspirin and waited for the pain to subside.

"Then it got severe," Ostahowski said. "The pain was sharp, it hurt to touch my chest, it hurt to move, then it hurt to breathe."

Ostahowski said when his wife arrived home from the hospital in Hardin where the two work, she witnessed Ostahowski's symptoms and immediately sprang to action.

"She said, 'well bud, you have two choices: you can get in the car and i'll drive you to the hospital right now, or we can call an ambulance.'"

After his wife drove him to the hospital in Hardin, Ostahowski said he was able to walk in, but had to be laid upon a gurney within minutes of arrival.

"People tell me it was three minutes or so later that I went into ventricular fibrillation and was basically dead. My heart wasn't pumping any blood. I had no vital signs."

As Ostahowski lay there, clinically dead, he said his wife continued to utilize her medical background to save the love of her life.

"My wife walked in, she teaches ACLS at the hospital there...and she grabbed the defibrillator paddles and shocked me!"

Ostahowski said it took five shocks from his wife to bring him back to life.

"I remember the fifth shock," he said. "I remember being in a peaceful place before that time, and then I remember feeling that shock and waking up and things weren't so peaceful."

Ostahowski was then transported to St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, where he said he spent 3 days in ICU and an additional 3 days on the cardiac floor. After 5 months in cardiac rehabilitation, Ostahowski said he now feels as good as ever, but shares his experience as an advisory for all.

"I think my experience shows that everyone is different. I didn't recognize what was happening as heart pain initially. I think if it wasn't for my wife...well, we got there with only three minutes to spare."

Ostahowski credits his wife with saving his life. He adds, coincidentally, that he met his wife of 33 years in a coronary care unit in a hospital in Lansing, Michigan where she was a nurse during his internship. The couple now have three daughters, all of whom are studying or working in the medical field.

To better share preventative health and wisdom with the community, Ostahowski will take part in a heart health luncheon to be held at St. Vincent Healthcare's Occupational Health Clinic on February 22. Dr. William Knopf, who performed Ostahowski's live-saving stent procedure, will also take part in the free community event along with Dr. Michelle Ellis, St. Vincent Interim Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery.

While preparing for that heart health luncheon, Ostahowski said he wants the community to be aware of the following 6 big risk factors in hearth health:

  1. family history
  2. blood pressure
  3. diabetes
  4. high cholesterol
  5. tobacco use
  6. lifestyle (sedentary vs. active)

Ostahowski said he had only one risk factor prior to his heart attack, higher cholesterol. The physician encourages everyone to be aware of these risk factors and modify their behavior to control their risk.

More information on lowering your risks will be available at next Wednesday's heart health luncheon starting at noon at St. Vincent Healthcare's Occupation Health Clinic. To register for the event or learn more, call 406-237-7006.

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